By definition, a sport is “an athletic activity requiring skill or physical prowess and often of a competitive nature, as racing, baseball, tennis, golf, bowling, wrestling, boxing, hunting, fishing, etc (Dictionary.com).
Based on that definition, we can deduce that the terms “athletic activity” and “physical prowess” describe traditional sports. If we looked at the opposites of those terms, we could have a fairly close description of their video game counterparts. Although gamers are often portrayed as lethargic or lazy, their favorite games keep their brains in constant motion with problem-solving, memory exercise, and hand-eye coordination.
While the physical build of an athlete can determine their most fitting sport or position, the mental strengths of a gamer can determine which video game genre fits them best. For example, tall athletes are almost automatically looked at as basketball players, because they have an advantage in scoring and defending at the 10-foot rim. Tall athletes can also fit into the wide receiver position in football, with a height advantage over the defender. For gamers, creative thinkers and problem solvers might be drawn to open-world games like Fallout or Minecraft. Others might gravitate towards shooting, or action games, involving strategy and elite hand-eye coordination. Battlefield, Call of Duty and Overwatch are some of the most popular in this category. So, similar to traditional sports, gamers are drawn to the type of games that give the most gratification in terms of success and ability.
Certain player positions in sports parallel certain types of players in gaming as well. For example, a squad leader in Battlefield has similar responsibilities to that of a point guard in basketball or quarterback in football, calling out the plays and facilitating communication with their teammates.
Mental and physical abilities are two major components that make up the pivotal trait of all games: competition. Competition is what makes sports what they are today, and you can see it at the personal level, team level, and league level.
Through summer camps, training camps, and practice of all kinds, athletes are constantly trying to perfect their craft by meeting their personal goals. As players improve, they have a better chance at competing for a starting position on the team. Their improved skill that earns the starting position goes on to help the team compete at the national level. The same goes for gamers.
To become the best at competitive video gaming, it takes countless hours of practice, studying, strategizing, cooperating, not to mention having a great internet connection and the proper equipment. This sounds pretty similar to sports, am I right? And yes, they use the internet in professional sports (see the partnership between Microsoft Surface and the NFL). While honing their personal skills for a particular video game, the user has the opportunity to achieve higher ranks in that gaming community. For example, Overwatch has a ranking system that rewards users with Competitive Points based on their skill rating at the end of a season (Overwatch Wiki). The skill rating starts at Bronze and eventually reaches the Master and Grandmaster ratings, which make up the top 500 players in the user’s region. When a user is that good, and if they are seeking a professional spot on a team, having that rank is very important in terms of recruiting. Once they earn a spot on a team, they can compete for large prize sums at national competitions.
What it really comes down to is this: you have two teams following the same rules to earn points, and trying to have more points than the other team, therefore earning a win. To human beings, competition is a psychological motivation tool; we naturally want to be better than the rest. Competition is what makes any game exciting to watch.
Sports are extremely entertaining due to their the human nature of unpredictability, and competition amongst some of the most talented athletes in the world. At that point, just add a game clock and play clock for suspense and strategy, and it’s entertainment in it’s purest form.
The majority of people think of video games as a hobby, not a profession. The growing popularity of eSports is turning the tables on that discussion. Competitive gaming events have drawn a larger spectatorship year after year since the early 2010s. In fact, it has grown so much that the industry has been able to support professional teams and players to perform at high-stake events. With the help of streaming platforms like Twitch.tv, gamers and their fans have blown the viewer numbers out of the water, creating more demand for competitive gaming events all over the world (eSports Wiki). I’m personally looking forward to the NBA 2K eLeague in this year. So, with a growing number of professional eSports teams, competition structure, and sponsorships, the eSports system looks similar to that of any traditional sport.
We are now at a point in society where video games are not “just games.” Although there are some negative aspects to video games, some of the negative stereotypes have taken a seat on the bench, because video games provide a variety of purposes like making friends, developing communication and problem-solving skills, all the way up to providing jobs for the next generations. When I was growing up, I never found myself wishing I could play video games for a living, but I also never thought it would become a possibility. Sports are similar to video games in that sense. I never thought I’d be able to pursue anything in sports, but now that I’m older it doesn’t seem impossible.
Next time you party up with your friends online, try to think of some parallels that video games have to traditional sports. Feel free to report your findings to me on Twitter @kyleclaydesign. I’d love to hear what you have to say.